Monday, March 31, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 24: May 1961

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 106

"Meet Sgt. Lt. Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick? Jack Abel?

"Valley of Missing Aces!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Jack: Just before attacking a beach, Sgt. Rock is dressed down by a tough general when he salutes too abruptly and knocks his own helmet off. Rock's brave leadership in an assault on a Nazi gunner leads the commanding officer to remark that Rock should be promoted, something the sergeant does not want. Rock's next heroic act, which involves destroying a tank, results in the general ordering the captain to send Rock to officer's candidate school. But before the combat-happy Joes of Easy Company get to "Meet Lt. Rock!," the sergeant intentionally upsets the general by being seen once again without his helmet on. As a result, he loses one of his three stripes, though we know his heroics will have him back to three soon enough. It's really not fair to the readers to have a Kubert cover on an issue of Our Army at War and then have the Sgt. Rock story inside drawn by someone else. The Grand Comics Database credits this to Irv Novick, based on Julie Schwartz's notes. However, I read and re-read this story and I think it's drawn by Jack Abel. Peter, what do you think?

Peter: It sure looks like Abel to me, Jack (especially that panel below), but then we've only been doing this "Professional DC War Correspondents" stuff for about a year so I'll leave the identifications to the experts. The art's not bad but it's not Kubert, that's for sure. The story's a bit lackluster as well but I think that's because Kubert brings a lot to the storytelling and when he's absent, the tale will suffer.

Abel or Novick?

Once again, Abel or Novick?

Andru swiping from Heath?
Jack: A major in the U.S. Air Force in WWI is haunted by the disappearance of every plane that has flown off to patrol Sector 2. He takes to the sky himself to see what happened and finds his plane sucked into the "Valley of Missing Aces," where German Baron Lothar is using a wind machine to capture U.S. Spad planes. His dastardly plan involves using the planes to attack Allied targets, knowing that fighters will not realize that the planes are being piloted by the enemy. The Major does a little secret painting on the underside of the wings of the captured planes, then escapes and flies off to warn the good guys. Happily, the other Allied fighters spot the iron crosses he painted beneath the wings of the pilfered planes and a battle ensues, with the U.S. fliers once again emerging victorious. This is a neat story that moves quickly and features some of the least annoying art by Ross Andru that I can recall.

Peter: I got the feeling we'd come in right in the middle of a Saturday afternoon serial, with references to previous dogfights between our hero and the (Hiss! Boo!) villain, the dastardly Baron Lothar (HA! HA! HA!). The almost science fiction-ish giant wind fan was a hoot but I'm not sure our hero had enough time to paint those Iron Crosses on all those planes. Maybe he had a stencil? I believe the Major's dramatic dive into the waterfall would have been the cliffhanger of Episode Nine!

"Valley of the Missing Aces!"

Russ Heath and Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 87

"Introducing--The Haunted Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Dead End!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: Since he was a child, Jeb Stuart has felt the presence of the long-dead confederate cavalry leader of the same name. Now that he's a member of a tank crew (in a tank called the "Jeb Stuart"), he feels that presence even more. The iron monster seems to take care of itself even, as in one instance, when the tank crew is incapacitated. Mowing its way through the larger German "Tiger"s, the "Jeb Stuart" could very well be the Allies' new secret weapon. "Introducing--The Haunted Tank" is no classic, it's overlong and Heath's art suffers here from too much "claustrophobia" (too many close-ups), but it's a decent enough intro to a series that would prove immensely popular. How does what seems to me to be an oddball one-shot concept stretch out to almost 250 adventures (the last turret spin occurred in the final issue of GI Combat in March 1987)? You got me. I guess we'll find out together but I'm skeptical. There are way too many unanswered questions in this opening installment and we may not get some of those answers until the origin story runs in GIC #114 (November 1965). Why is the Tank named after "Jeb"? Most of these tanks were nicknamed after actresses, weren't they? Don't the other men find it odd that they're driving around with Jeb Stuart in the Jeb Stuart? A bit egotistical if the guys don't know the whole story, no? Despite my dubiousness, I should note that The Haunted Tank is beloved by DC war fans (The Jeb even made the cover of Comic Book Marketplace #47) and has even seen reprinting in the DC Showcase format, so what do I know? At least we'll have Russ Heath to gaze at, even when the plots get repetitive (Heath will remain the principal artist on The Haunted Tank until 1972, when he'll be replaced by Sam Glanzman).

"Introducing--The Haunted Tank!"

Jack: Now we're getting somewhere! I had been waiting for the Haunted Tank series to get going and I was not disappointed by this introduction. Peter and I both like Russ Heath's art and, while I would not say that this long (18 page) story features what I would call consistently great work from Mr. Heath, it's certainly enjoyable and nice to look at. I did not know that the tank was haunted by the ghost of Jeb Stuart and also driven by a contemporary soldier named after the civil war general, but it's a neat idea. I am looking forward to more tales of the Little Tank That Could!

Peter: In the middle of the Pacific, a downed fighter pilot finds himself facing a "Dead End." Should he surrender to the enemy, drown, or keep on fighting? Luckily for our hero, an American sub happens along and a frogman rescues him. As the sub prepares to torpedo the Japanese battleship, they themselves are hit by a torpedo. The only survivors are our pilot and the frogman who saved him. Together they manage to steer a floating mine into the battleship and save the day. Now where was that nearby sand barge? A double dip of Heath goes down really well. Here Russ is able to breathe and his art is exquisite (perhaps the best of the year, Jack?), with the splash page worthy of its own poster. Keep the Heath coming, Bob! If there's only one quibble, it's the same old "what now?" when the story finishes with our heroes drifting in a Pacific filled with man-eaters and no land in sight.

Jack: If I gave the Haunted Tank story a high rating, "Dead End" gets an even higher one! This is a very exciting story with Heath at his best. Haney's prose even reaches a level that DC war tales rarely reach--poetic and moving. "Fighting machines can only do what they are bidden . . . fighting hearts can do what seems impossible!" Heath even draws Japanese characters without resorting to offensive stereotypes. A Heath cover, two Heath stories, good writing, a good new series--this is the best DC war comic we've seen recently!

Russ Heath
Star Spangled War Stories 96

"Mission X!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Bodyguard for a Flattop!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"The Nothing Ace"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Peter: A sub crew assigned to "Mission X" finds itself being dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a giant turtle. Torpedoes give the giant some aches and pains but before the crew can get the sub back to working order, they're assaulted by a giant eel. Luckily the crew is equipped with brave men as well as explosives and the eel is reduced to bits and pieces. Just as two men head for a local island and "Mission X," a pterodactyl destroys the sub, leaving the duo at the mercy of an island filled with creatures from the dinosaur age! A well-timed tidal wave destroys the island and all its monsters but the soldiers manage to ride the waves in a giant turtle shell. They're picked up by a patrol plane, sent back to their base, and finally get to their Mission X! Is this The War That Time Forgot or The Time That War Forgot? These two guys are standing before their C.O. at the climax of the story and neither says a word about the monsters from the dinosaur age! If I was around to read this series when it was ongoing, I would have written editor (and writer) Bob Kanigher and suggested that perhaps he write in a mysterious fog around these islands that causes amnesia to anyone who leaves. That would have been the best way to explain the utter lack of knowledge on the military's part despite thousands of casualties amassed through the first five adventures. I love how the two GIs are almost like balls in a pinball machine, bouncing from one monster to the next and thank goodness that tidal wave came along when it did! These dinos have been living on this island for millions of years but the minute a couple of rangers land, the whole place goes to hell. As dopey and repetitive as this series is, it seems like it's more fun with each succeeding installment and this chapter is the best of them all. Andru and Esposito, while still tanking it with their human characters, are really getting into the swing of things with their outrageous dinosaur creations. There's a high mortality rate here as well: an entire submarine crew (save our two heroes) bites the dust. Now, can we find out what Mission X was?

Jack: I'm glad you liked it! I thought it was just as dumb as all of the other stories in this series, which all follow the same pattern. The height of hilarity came when the two sailors were outside the sub exchanging Morse Code messages with the men inside by tapping on the hull with a wrench. As the giant sea monster whooshes along with the sub in tow, the men men hang on somehow, and they continue to tap out endless messages! The raft made out of a broken giant turtle shell was goofy, too. The GCD says this episode was written by Bob Haney rather than Kanigher, but how could you tell the difference? The stories are all the same.

"Bodyguard for a Flattop"
Peter: The crew of the PT 57 find themselves "Bodyguard for a Flattop" and some of the men are none too happy about it. The aircraft carrier "Big Y" is massive but still needs lookouts else Japanese subs will sink her. Though the captain continually chides his men that they're on the sea to clean the path for "Big Y," there's still moaning and groaning to be heard, some claiming that the battleship "doesn't even know we're here." When an enemy sub sinks the 57, the "Big Y" comes to her rescue and, suddenly, all the whining and moaning ceases. Yet another "hook line" story where the dialogue almost becomes a monotone, with every other panel highlighting "they don't even know we're here" or "do you think they'd do the same for us?" The concept, little fish looking out for the big fish, is an intriguing one and I wish Haney had accentuated the action rather than the grumbles. Jack Abel is becoming more and more dependable at delivering solid art.

Jack: I thought this was good! Haney managed to avoid using a catch phrase over and over, though you're right that the sentiment does get repeated. Abel's art is at its best and the sight of the little PT boat destroying everything that threatens the flattop is exciting, especially the final battle when the PT boat crashes straight into the kamikaze boat!

"The Nothing Ace"
Peter: Jet Pilot Lt. Ned Norris has always been known as "Nothing" Norris. He fumbled passes in college football, dropped boxes of merchandise in his vocations, probably even left his fly open in Science class, but one thing he always excelled at: skipping stones across the neighborhood pond. When "Nothing" finally gets a chance at blowing up stuff in the war, he constantly comes up short, ostensibly killing innocent bystanders with his errant missiles. Then, on one fateful mission, "Nothing" Norris becomes the "Nothing Ace" when he tests his unique stone-skipping talents against some enemy subs. Nothing story, nothing art.  I have nothing to say about this nothing story. Jack?

Jack: Once again, I liked it! Yes, the constant repetition of "Nothing" is a drag, but Hank Chapman's captions create a sense of suspense that reminded me of an EC story or even something Cornell Woolrich would have written. I liked how the narrator addressed Norris in the second person as "you" and kept needling him, pushing him and the story along to its conclusion. I even liked the plot device with the skipping stones and the skipping bombs. I guess I'm just so grateful when a story does not have any dinosaurs that I give it a break!

DC was really sticking it to Dell!

Another Infantino PSA

We love house ads!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Twenty-Three: April 1972

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 134

"The Restless Dead"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Dressed to Kill!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernie Chua (Chan)

"The Bravest Man Alive!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley
(reprinted from House of Mystery #18, September 1953)

"Time Bomb from 1500 A.D."
Story Uncredited
Art by Paul Parker
(reprinted from House of Secrets #58, February 1963)

"If the Spirit is Willing"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Tuska

"Everything You Always Wanted
to Know About Fear*
*But Were Afraid to Ask"
Story by George Kashdan and Murray Boltinoff
Art by John Calnan

Peter: Sandor and Jan make decent money selling the fresh corpses they've unearthed to scientists. Jan has decided grave-robbing is not his favorite vocation and threatens mutiny. In an effort to show him the error of his ways, Sandor finds a new benefactor: Dr. Harvasch, a brilliant but eccentric scientist who has created a race of "non-men," slaves patched together from dead bodies that "live" only to serve the good doctor. Jan doesn't buy the "now we're doing good for mankind" line and tells Sandor he's out of the biz. Sandor plots his partner's death but, in the meantime, has to fill an order for Harvasch. When he shows up at the doc's lab, Harvasch reveals that he is, in reality, one of his own "non-men" and now, so is Jan! Another grand Wessler/Grandenetti mess, "The Restless Dead" further adds to my argument that these writers really didn't know how to write an original story. Here, Wessler obviously pillages Frankenstein and The Body Snatchers with a "twist" that makes no sense (why would the doctor instruct his slaves to reboot him as one of them?). Harvasch, at one point, tells Sandor that the "non-men" have only enough brain matter to obey orders but then explains that they're smart enough to fabricate new members of their clan by themselves. Grandenetti's name is obviously a bad sign but here he looks even more rushed (if that's possible) and cartoony. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is the worst I've seen Jerry look ever. Have a gander at the panel to the left (yeah, the one that screams "Ngyaaaaa!") and tell me what's going on.

Jack: I had to look at that panel a couple of times when I read the story before I understood that Jan opened the door and was so scared by what he saw that he yelled and dropped his candle. I kind of liked this story. The idea of creating laborers out of dead bodies makes sense, if you ignore ethics, morals, hygiene, and a few thousand years of religion. I thought Jerry's art fit this story pretty well, though that's not saying much.

"If the Spirit is Willing"
Peter: Two quickies this issue. A rich man pops into Ed Mercer's tailoring shop and orders a suit made to order but it must be delivered the following day. Ed spends the entire night fashioning the suit and arrives just in time to see his tailoring put to good use... on the rich man's corpse. "Dressed to Kill" telecasts its punchline in its title but at least it's only four pages long so we don't have to wait too long until it's over. Ernie Chua (later Ernie Chan) provides decent artwork. The other short-short, "If the Spirit is Willing," clocks in at two pages (which is two pages too long) and is unbearably George Tuska. A man races from medium to medium, seeking a contact with the spirit world. When he finally finds an authentic "spiritual advisor," we discover he was actually a ghost trying to get back to the spirit world.

"Dressed to Kill!"
Jack: I got a kick out of "Dressed to Kill!" and did not see the ending coming. What a relief to get a story drawn by Ernie Chua after another Grandenetti special opened the issue! The Tuska story is just short and silly. I feel like we saw this same gimmick awhile back with two parents of a boy who died in a car crash. Didn't they turn out to be ghosts?

Peter: DuBois and Carlton, two daredevil showmen, vie for the title "The Bravest Man Alive!" To determine who will be allowed to keep the title, the duo launch a reign of terror on each other to see who will crack first. The answer is neither and both. "The Bravest Man Alive!" is another in a series of hugely entertaining "check your brain at the door" stories that populated the DC anthologies in the 1950s, one that reflects the influence the EC line had on all horror comics. The oneupsmanship between the two death-defiers would have been very comfortable between the covers of The Haunt of Fear (albeit with a heaping of gore) and only its goofy final panel (wherein Cranston dies of a heart attack after finding out DuBois has outwitted him and nabbed the title) made me roll my eyes.  Because I'm finding so much pleasure in reading these vintage nuggets, I'm wondering if Jack and I didn't begin our journey in the wrong decade.

"The Bravest Man Alive!"

More proof of that can be found in "Time Bomb From 1500 A.D." Cryptogram whiz Hal deciphers a puzzling message from Leonardo Da Vinci, mapping out his invention of a mysterious device he locked in a time capsule and dumped off the coast near Rome. Wasting no time, Hal and his pal, Dan Summers go diving and, sure enough, they find the capsule. While hauling it aboard their ship, the package splits and a statue is revealed. Investigating further, the pair discover the statue is filled with explosives and that they've been followed by notorious gangster "Sport" Lascar, who wants to use the sculpture to blow up a train carrying gold bullion. Only fast thinking on Hal's part puts the kibosh on Lascar's evil plan. Yep, there's some really silly stuff going on here but that might just add to its appeal. Why would Lascar go to all the trouble of tracking the pair instead of just using dynamite and how did he find out about the sculpture in the first place? Why did it take four centuries for someone to decipher the cryptogram and isn't it amazing that the time capsule wasn't at least buried under a layer of silt? The most important question, I guess, is why does Peter Enfantino excuse silliness from these nutty old yarns and not from the new material being presented? Could it be that the vibe that emanates from the reprints is one of enthusiasm rather than disregard?

"Time Bomb From 1500 A.D."
Jack: I enjoyed "The Bravest Man Alive!" even though some of the stunts the two men pull to torture each other presuppose a level of skill that might even tax James Bond. The Curt Swan/Ray Burnley artwork is very smooth and pure 1953-era DC. "Time Bomb from 1500 A.D." is a perfect example of a story that fits the comic's title of Unexpected without having anything to do with horror. I had never heard of Paul Parker before but I like his art. He had an odd career, according to the Grand Comics Database, and his last credit was in 1965 for a romance mag. I have to mention that a story from 1963 with a helicopter and a statue that is set in Rome makes me want to watch La Dolce Vita yet again!

"Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bad Writing*...
But Only Had to Read Unexpected to Find Out."
Peter: The worst is saved for last this issue with the oh-so-cutely titled "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fear*... * But Were Afraid to Ask." The wealthy Mr. Gault hires Chivvers to be his new butler and finds the man brings with him many dangers. When Chivvers asks his master if the rest of his family can come to stay, the fun really begins. Another incredibly dumb story that makes no sense whatsoever, wrapped up with a climax that will have you questioning if the title "editor" actually meant anything in 1972. Thanks to the time we invested discussing Batman in the 1970s, we know that John Calnan's art is only going to get worse so, I suppose, let's be thankful that it's at least serviceable here.

Jack: Serviceable? Serviceable? This is almost worse than Grandenetti! Naming the butler "Chivvers" (shivers--get it?) should have tipped us off right away. Apparently, Murray Boltinoff came up with the plot, such as it is, and George Kashdan actually wrote this, which means that it took two writers to put this tripe together! Oh, the humanity. The story's title is a take-off on a 1972 Woody Allen movie, which was an "adaptation" of a 1969 sex manual. Listen, the 1970s weren't all roses.

Peter: On the Unexpected Mail page, Cheryl Janeway asks: "After Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr., who was the actor that was regarded as king of the mummies?" Answer is: Tom Tyler. I'm impressed with the knowledge of our Uncredited Letter Answerer, but I'd argue that Christopher Lee made a more imposing bandaged beastie in Hammer's The Mummy (1959) than Tyler (in The Mummy's Hand, 1940). Of course, I wouldn't even put the podgy Chaney in the conversation anyway, but that's just me.

Jack: I just watched Chaney in Of Mice and Men. He gave a powerful performance. It's funny that the voice in my head ("Which way did he go, George?") from all those Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched as a kid was actually a takeoff on this very serious and tragic character.

Michael W. Kaluta
The House of Mystery 201

"Put Your Trust in a Killer!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Adolfo Buylla

"Million-Dollar Magic"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernard Bailey
(reprinted from House of Mystery #60, March 1957)

"Hail the Conquering Aliens"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #103, October 1960)

"The Demon Within!"
Story by Joe Orlando and John Albano
Art by Jim Aparo

"A Tale of Vengeance!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Put Your Trust in a Killer!"
Peter: George Ringler will be going to the electric chair for murder unless his boss, Big Joe, can get him off. Problem is, Big Joe wants George to fry so that the truth, that Big Joe himself is actually the culprit, won't come to light. Ringler's not the brightest bulb in the chandelier so he keeps assuring his wife that she can "Put Your Trust in a Killer!" One night, Cain the caretaker comes to George's room and shows him what would have been had his fingerprints not been found at the crime scene. Ringler sees that Joe would have knocked him off to keep him quiet. Suddenly, George Ringler wants to confess. Not a very gripping or exciting narrative, this one, but Steve Skeates will get better eventually. It is interesting to see Cain play an active role in the story rather than just commenting at the bookends. Yes, we've seen him make two- or three-panel cameos before, but never actually putting the plot through its motions as he does here. This is Adolfo Buylla's first contribution to the mystery line (he'd only appear twice afterwards). I was struck by how much Buylla's work reminded me of the Gold Key titles and their fondness for the Spanish artists. Ironically, Adolfo would soon jump ship and draw for Gold Key's Grimm's Ghost Stories, a title that would be most apropos for "Put Your Trust in a Killer!"

Jack: I really liked this story! The plot held my interest and the art was above average. I don't recall seeing that Cain had magic powers before. Here, he does a Cher and turns back time. By the way, you did not mention the cover by Kaluta and the beautiful single-page intro by Bernie Wrightson, featuring Cain and the Frankenstein monster. Cover, Cain intro, first story drawn by Buylla--a fine start to this issue!

Peter: On the reprint front this time out: Old-timer Caspar Creed spends millions on worthless trinkets, hoping to find the "Million-Dollar Magic" that will regain him his youth. Though Caspar travels the world over, he finally stumbles on the fountain of youth right in his own backyard... and then drinks a little too deeply. The plot's been done to death but "Million-Dollar Magic" is not too bad and its ironic finale actually brought a twinkle to my horror-jaded eyes. What doesn't float my artistic boat are Bernard Bailey's etchings, which lack anything remotely exciting. Smack dab in the middle of a mock alien invasion, we're invaded by aliens! Sounds like a great scenario, you say. Sure does, but the idea for "Hail the Conquering Aliens" is better than the execution. It's a confusing and, ultimately, really silly fluff piece with the typically adequate art of Ruben Moreira, a prolific DC mystery artist and co-creator of the popular Rip Hunter series. The outlandish plot, where a group of soldiers dress up like aliens and hold a town prisoner, could be read as an analogy for the Red Scare of the 1950s, I guess, but that might be giving (uncredited) too much... credit.
"Million-Dollar Magic"

Jack: Peter, are you kidding? Baily's work on "Million-Dollar Magic" is great! As I read it, I was thinking how Baily is becoming one of my favorite artists of the '40s and '50s. I have enjoyed his work on The Spectre in the Golden Age All-Star Comics. I guess it's all a matter of taste! I also realized (once again) as I read this story one of the big differences between old comics and new ones that makes me prefer the old ones--they have a lot more dialog and captions! Comics today seem to be all pictures and few words. "Hail the Conquering Aliens" has plenty of twists and turns, with the story changing directions every few panels. It was better than I expected it to be, though. I guess even adequate DC art in 1960 was better than some of the art we got in the new stories in 1972.

"Hail the Conquering Aliens"
Peter: Little Gary Winters' ability to transform himself into a monster has become a complete embarrassment to his middle-class parents and stuck-up big sister. In an effort to regain their social status, the Winters turn to specialists to tame "The Demon Within" their son and fully accept the consequences. Oh, I get it! Those who are different in our milquetoast and Christian society shall be castigated and castrated before the evil can grow and infect. Yeah, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and so did Albano and Orlando, it seems. Pretension masquerading as art. I like Jim Aparo but has there ever been an Aparo style or has there only ever been Adams-Lite?

"The Demon Within!"
Jack: What a disturbing story! You're right that Aparo is very Adams-like here, though I think it's safe to say that Jim Aparo has a style of his own. You must admit that you don't mistake his work for that of anyone else, and when you read a story that's drawn by Aparo you know it's him right away. I think you must have been in a bad mood when you read this issue, because it's not as bad as you're making it out to be!

Peter: Chet Yovac blames mine owner Whitney Claymore for the death of Chet's father. After burning the Claymore residence to the ground, Chet is institutionalized for years but, once sprung, he kidnaps Claymore's daughter and holds her in one of the old man's mines. Claymore concocts a fool-proof plan: he instructs his assistant to dress as Chet's dead father and talk the boy out of the mine. Once the spectre of Chet's pop shows up, the plan goes pretty well until the mine begins to collapse. All escape but Chet. As Claymore and his daughter flee the mine, they are approached by the assistant who couldn't get to the mine in time for the plan. How many times have we seen that ending? I had to laugh when Chet robs and murders a man at a poker game so that he can afford to buy a police uniform, all the better to kidnap Claymore's daughter. He's a nut with a gun; he doesn't need a uniform. This is truly dreadful stuff, with the cherry on top of the moldy sponge cake being Sam Glanzman's other-worldly pencils (everyone in this strip has a huge nose!). An early favorite for worst art of the year and most yawn-inducing issue of House of Mystery in many a moon.

"A Tale of Vengeance"
Jack: I'm with you on this story but not on the issue as a whole, which I enjoyed. Glanzman's art here looks like it belongs in a 1972-era underground comic, not in a DC comic. It would fit right in alongside Crumb and Shelton. I looked up Glanzman, something I think I've done before, and was interested to see that he has had a career in comics that began in 1939 and went at least into the 2000s. Pretty impressive! Presumably, this story was not his best work.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 4

"The Crimson Claw!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by George Tuska

"The Ghostly Cities of Gold!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Man Who Killed His Shadow"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley
(reprinted from House of Mystery #16, July 1953)

"The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Ernie Chua

"The Legend of the Black Swan"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ramona Fradon
(reprinted from House of Mystery #48, March 1956)

"The Threshold of Nightmare House"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

"The Crimson Claw!"
Jack: Maryland, 1839: Little Johnny's mother thinks she must have imagined it when she saw the baby's hand turn into "The Crimson Claw!" She has a similar vision one Halloween years later. Johnny grows up and has the same vision while having his fortune told by a gypsy. Little did he or his mother know he would grow up to become the notorious assassin, John Wilkes Booth! This is about as dopey as a story can get. Leading off an issue with a 4-pager by Tuska does not bode well.

Peter: For its first 71 issues, Ghosts will carry the subtitle "True Tales of the Weird and Supernatural" (shortly thereafter DC would modify the line to "New Tales of..."). I'm not sure if that means we'll be subjected to the same kind of poppycock as "The Crimson Claw!" for the rest of our journey or at some point saner heads will prevail and we'll get some honest to gosh good storytelling. Since Murray Boltinoff will edit the title for the entire duration of our study, I'm not holding my breath. Now's a good time to recommend a massive article devoted to Ghosts, written by John Wells, that appeared in Back Issue #52. You'll learn much more about the saga of Leo Dorfman and Murray Boltinoff than Jack and I could ever tell you. Pick up a copy at In that piece, it's explained that Ghosts had no letters page because Boltinoff couldn't string together enough LOCs to justify a full page.

"Good" Grandenetti (?)
Jack: On the Yucatan Peninsula, old Esteban uses a magic parchment to retrieve gold from the lost city of Cibola in order to help two Americans who are building homes for his poor people. Greedy Pablo and Miguel force Estaban to give them the parchment but they ignore his warning that their greed will prevent them from bringing back any profit from "The Ghostly Cities of Gold!" They disappear, but are those their skeletons that are found in the ruins months later, with golden manacles on their wrists? Only slightly better than the opening story, this mess proves that Jerry Grandenetti will not give Carl Barks any competition in illustrating stories about Cibola.

Peter: In the same week that I damn Jerry Grandenetti's work over in Unexpected, I have to lightly praise it here on "The Ghostly Cities of Gold," a fairly atmospheric tale with a nice kick in the rear. Jerry's heavily inked here so most of his trademark squiggly-wiggly is hidden and I suspect that's what leads to my favorable reaction. At any rate, this is about the best we've gotten from new material in this title.

"The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro"
Jack: It's 1934 in Tanganyika, and Dr. Harrison's medical station is being turned upside down by "The Fanged Spectres of Kinshoro," a pride of ghostly lions set loose by a witch doctor. Only by enlisting the aid of a wise old tribesman can Dr. Harrison stop the carnage and set the lions back on the man who sent them. This may not be much of a story, but at least Ernie Chua can draw!

Peter: I can see very clearly from the little number on the bottom of the last page that "The Fanged Spectres" runs seven pages, so why did it seem like ten times that amount?

Guest-starring Paul Lynde
Jack: Debra Wayne has a recurring nightmare of going to a scary house and meeting a ghost of herself. Her shrink prescribes a rest cure at the beach, so her boyfriend rents her a house at Cape Cod. Too bad the house looks just like the one from her nightmares! When she crosses "The Threshold of Nightmare House," her boyfriend leaves her alone and the realtor tells her it's haunted. Sure enough, things go bump in the night, and next evening they find poor Debra dead of a heart attack. Only her little puddy-tat can see the real cause--her ghostly doppleganger! Boy, this has to be the worst issue of Ghosts yet, and we're only on number four. There is just about nothing to recommend in this putrid volume!

Peter: So, you're scared to death of a house in your nightmares that looks just like the one you're going to vacation in. Whattya do? Well, if you're Debra, you ignore the realtor, who tells you of the past renters who claim the place is haunted, and tell your badly-drawn husband you're staying for a month, right? I'm not sure if our resident Ghost-ologist Leo Dorfman is trying to tell us, in the end, that Debra had a poltergeist or Debra was the poltergeist! A really bad gothic ghost story.

"The Legend of the Black Swan"
Jack: Jockey Flash Nesbitt becomes "The Man Who Killed His Shadow" when he murders private eye Jeff Maxon, but soon he is haunted by shadows that seem to reenact the murder everywhere he goes. He sees one too many shadows and crashes his car into a tree, causing his own death. The police reveal that a man with a projector had been following him around and that the shadows were a plot to get him to confess. The cops sure had some advanced technology in those days! A cocky college student does not believe "The Legend of the Black Swan" and bets that he can spend a night on a haunted ship. He barely escapes with his life! Gosh, I was so surprised to learn that the ghosts were real and that the actors hired to scare the poor sap were late in arriving. Never heard THAT one before.

Peter: ... and the award for longest expository ever in a comic book (reproduced below) goes to "The Man Who Killed His Shadow," a truly loony and utterly boring "Is it Supernatural or Not?" tale with art by Curt Swan that makes the strip look as though it was produced in the 1940s. A rare misfire in the reprint department. Not much better is "The Legend of the Black Swan," which begs the question... "how many of these 1950s ghost stories ended with the same punchline: "Oh, so sorry, sir. The car broke down and I wasn't able to make it out to put a scare in your friend!"

"No, Phil, the giant rear projection screen we built over the underpass
only caused 14 accidents and three fatalities. It was the only way we
could catch the perp..."

More indescribable madness from
the pencil of Jerry Grandenetti

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty-Four: "Coming Home" [6.35]

by Jack Seabrook

At the beginning of Henry Slesar's short story, "You Can't Blame Me," Harry Beggs thinks that:

"First twenty-year old I see, I'll go up to him and say, kid, I'm one guy you never laid eyes on before. I'm one guy you can't blame for anything, because I've been sitting out your lifetime."

By the end of the story, Beggs will discover just how wrong he is. Released from prison after twenty years, the fifty-year old man takes a bus to Purdy's Landing and a taxi to Edge Road. He walks to a secluded, wooded area and digs up a suitcase that still contains the money he had stolen decades before. He makes his way to his old neighborhood, noting the things that have changed and those that have not among the tenements.

Jeanette Nolan as Edith
Going into the local bar, he starts to telephone his wife Edith but he can't go through with it. He has a whisky at the bar and asks about Mike, the former owner, now long dead. A pretty young woman approaches him and talks him into buying another drink. They go to a table together. Next thing he knows, he awakens from a dream of being back in prison. The bartender tells him that it's closing time, but he can't find his suitcase and the woman is gone. The bartender denies that any such young woman works there and throws him out.

Beggs finds his old building and walks up three flights to his apartment, where his wife opens the door. Edith is surprised to see him and he is shy about reconnecting with his wife--the warden had commented that she "'wasn't much for visiting.'" Harry agrees to stay and Edith agrees to let him. He hugs her and she tells him that they have a daughter whom he has never seen. She calls Angela out of the bedroom, and the young woman who emerges turns out to be none other than the B-girl who had stolen his suitcase.

Crahan Denton, Susan Silo, Kreg Martin
The story ends with this shocking turn of events, leaving the reader to ponder what will happen next. Will Harry be relieved to get his money back? Will he resent the fact that his daughter is a thief like himself? The story's title, "You Can't Blame Me," is ironic because Angela can blame Harry for how her life has turned out. She is, in fact, the first twenty-year old he sees after being released from prison, and she can blame him for the person she has become.

"You Can't Blame Me" is a very effective short tale with a good twist ending. Harry is 50 years old and has white hair; much is made about how old he and Edith are. Angela wears "cheap, dead-white pearls" around her neck, and this is the detail that Slesar uses to tell us that she is the same girl who fleeced Harry in the bar. The setting is one of poverty and hopelessness: Edith wears a "soiled housecoat," sunset on the tenement roof is "like make-up on a trollop," Harry has "an old pair of eyes." This neighborhood is tough and unforgiving. In the bar, he hears "hard, feminine laughter," and the B-girl's "slim throat" is "severed by a low black neckline." Even the characters' names have meaning: Harry Beggs is a man who begs for understanding but receives little.

Slesar's story was first published in the May 1961 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The author quickly adapted it for television and it was filmed as the last of eleven episodes he would contribute to season six. First broadcast on Tuesday, June 13, 1961, on NBC at 8:30 on the East Coast, it was followed at 9 by "The Grim Reaper" on Thriller.

Retitled "Coming Home" for television, the show follows the same basic story as its source but has significant changes. When Beggs meets with the warden prior to his release, we learn that he was a diligent worker during his time in prison and that he will be presented with a check for $1636 as he leaves, representing the money he saved over the last eight years. He tells the warden that he plans to give the money to someone who said he'd never have a nickel--"'to show them.'" That someone turns out to be his wife, Edith.

As Beggs walks out of prison he is accompanied by a younger man, who is met at the gates by a pretty young woman in a car. She runs up to the man and embraces him; in contrast, Harry walks alone to the bus stop. His first destination is the bank, where he cashes the check. The teller warns him that it's "'an awful lot of money to be carrying around,'" and subsequent events prove her right. Small moments show his discomfort at returning to life outside the prison walls: a rude bus driver barks at him, another pedestrian glares at him after an accidental bump on the sidewalk. Harry is uncomfortable returning to his former environment.

Crahan Denton as Harry
He goes to the lobby of his building but can't bring himself to press the buzzer next to Edith's name. At the bar, he telephones Edith but hangs up when he hears her voice. Lucky, the bartender, and Angela, the unnamed B-girl, observe Harry as he fumbles with the stack of bills he takes from his wallet. Their goal of relieving him of his wad of cash is more obvious than in the story, where he has a suitcase full of money but where no one would know unless they looked inside. Angela suggests that he buy another drink and tells him that she will finish it if he can't. She says that it's "'like a money-back guarantee--only you don't get your money back.'" This seemingly humorous remark foreshadows exactly what she plans to do to the man she does not know is her father.

A major change to the teleplay occurs when Harry goes home to Edith. When he comes in, she makes an effort to straighten her hair and her room, suggesting that she usually doesn't care how either appear. She tells him that when he shot a cop in a holdup she decided that she never wanted to see him again. This remark makes the changes from story to teleplay a bit confusing, since Slesar at first makes Harry seem more upstanding by having him save his prison earnings rather than dig up a hidden suitcase of loot. Edith's comment gives her a motive for not visiting Harry but makes one wonder what happened to the money he stole.

Susan Silo as Angela
Harry argues that they needed the money twenty years before and she reminds him that he thought that all she cared about was money and blamed it all on her. There is an extended scene between Harry and Edith in which she tells him that she makes a living washing floors and scrubbing walls and states that her life while he was in prison was as bad as his. He tells her that all of the money that he saved was stolen from him and they begin to warm to each other even though the topic of money continues to act as a wedge between them.

The show ends as did the story, though this time Angela walks in the front door rather than out of the bedroom. As Harry's eyes meet Angela's and their expressions register shock and horror, Edith, not knowing what has happened, introduces them with delight in her voice: "'Your father's come home!'"

"Coming Home" is directed by Alf Kjellin (1920-1988), who allows the story to tell itself and who gives the actors room to play out their parts. He began his movie career in Sweden and moved to the U.S. during World War Two. He was both an actor and a director; he appeared as an actor in Jack Finney's Assault on a Queen (1966) and also in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also directed twelve episodes of the Hitchcock series, though this was his only half-hour.

Robert Carson as the warden
Crahan Denton (1914-1966) plays Harry. He appeared three times on the Hitchcock show, most recently as the sheriff in Slesar's "Incident in a Small Jail."

Playing Edith is Jeanette Nolan (1911-1998). Nolan often played characters who were much older than she was and it's refreshing to see her with long, brown hair, playing a character her own age. She was on the Hitchcock show five times and she also appeared in Slesar's "The Right Kind of House" and "The Morning After."

Susan Silo (1942- ) plays Angela, the B-girl who turns out to be Harry's daughter. Only 18 years old at the time of filming, she appears a few years older and is convincing as a sultry, seductive young woman. She started her career just a year before this but she had a long run of appearances on episodic TV, including one on Batman. More recently, she has been busy as a voiceover actress; her website contains many interesting biographical details and photographs.

Ms. Silo recently shared the following memories when asked if she recalled filming "Coming Home":

"I do remember the wonderful Swedish director Alf Kjellin . . . he was such a joy to work with! The subject matter was VERY daring for TV at that time and he handled the delicate balance of the bar girl/daughter role with great skill in directing me. I was told that the dress I wore was originally worn by Marilyn Monroe and cut down to to fit my smaller frame . . . that was fun to know! Also, Jeannette Nolan who played my mother was the wife of actor John McIntire whom I appeared with on "Wagon Train" . . . they were a lovely acting couple and treated me like a daughter!"

Kreg Martin as Lucky
Robert Carson (1909-1979) is a familiar face as the warden; he was on the Hitchcock show 11 times, most recently in Slesar's "The Last Escape."

Finally, Kreg Martin plays Lucky, the bartender. He appeared in seven Hitchcock episodes, including "Maria."

"Coming Home" was reprinted in A Crime for Mothers and Others under a third title, "Welcome Home," and is available on DVD here. It may be seen online for free here.

"Coming Home." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 13 June 1961. Television.
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Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
Silo, Susan. Message to the author. 17 Mar. 2014. E-mail.
Slesar, Henry. "Welcome Home." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon Book Division, 1962. 88-95. Print.
"Susan Silo." Susan Silo. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.